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Big Papi the star of stars at Derby

Big Papi the star of stars at Derby

PITTSBURGH -- To Red Sox Nation, David Ortiz is the inimitable "Big Papi," leader of the pack.

To his new Boston teammate, Mark Loretta, Ortiz is "the biggest personality in the game, somebody people gravitate to with his great smile, great laugh."

To his oldest amigos in the Dominican Republic, Ortiz answers to "Pecosa." Why?

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"Because of the way he slaps the baseball," Edwin Garcia said on Monday night as Team Papi gathered for the CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby. "Pecosa is 'slap' in Spanish. That's what we all call him."

Imagine that. David Ortiz, slap hitter. You learn something new every day.

The big man launched some moon shots -- and came through, as always, in the clutch -- to advance into the final four in the Home Run Derby, entertaining his buddies as well as an enthusiastic crowd at PNC Park with 10 first-round blasts.

Only the Mets' David Wright, with 16 rockets, outdid "Pecosa" -- and both showed the effects in the second round, Wright going deep only twice, Ortiz just three times.

As Ortiz paused late in the second round to collect himself, Garcia and another Team Papi member came out to refresh him with a towel and some encouragement.

Their man responded with one more booming shot before tapping out to another rousing ovation.

Loretta might be right when he calls Ortiz the biggest personality in the game today. Certainly no player has come so far from such humble beginnings, which is part of what makes Big Papi so endearing.

Back home in the Dominican Republic, Garcia befriended a teenage Ortiz long before the world would open its arms to him as he was leading the Red Sox on their unforgettable 2004 World Series journey.

"He's my best friend ever," said Garcia, known as "Monga" to Ortiz and others in their orbit. "I played baseball, too, and I introduced David to my scout in Los Trinitario -- Ramon De Los Santos. That's how he signed."

Ortiz was 17 years old and 10 days when he signed with the Seattle Mariners in November 1992. Seattle sent him to Minnesota four years later as the player to be named in a deal for Dave Hollins, and the Twins, in a move they won't be allowed to forget, let Ortiz go after the 2002 season.

The rest, as they say, is Red Sox hysteria.

While Papi's pals were having the time of their lives at PNC Park, familiar faces passed by, checking out the scene.

There was Notre Dame football coach Charlie Weis, and comic genius Rob Reiner. And there was Dean Cain, who starred in "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman" on the small screen in the '90s.

Cain, who developed into an NFL-caliber talent at Princeton after first gaining attention as an athlete at Santa Monica High School, carried on a dialogue with actress Alyssa Milano.

An avowed Dodgers fan, Milano spoke with reverence of seeing the great Ichiro Suzuki in a downtown hotel.

"He dresses and moves with so much class and style," Milano said. "And he's so slender ... I think we could share the same pair of jeans."

Former Major Leaguer Billy Sample had a fascinating response when asked who would form his all-time Home Run Derby dream foursome.

"I'd start with Willie Stargell and Frank Howard -- and the Babe, of course," Sample said. "Yeah, let's make Josh Gibson the fourth, although Jose Canseco wouldn't be a bad choice.

"Those are guys who hit balls out of stadiums. Those are the guys I'd want in the Home Run Derby to end all derbies."

Nearby, Lou Piniella was having a few laughs with Tim McCarver, and one couldn't help but notice how good Sweet Lou looked -- tan, relaxed, fit enough, it appeared, to go nine innings.

The stars were out, all right.

In the end, it would come down to Wright and young Ryan Howard, the Phillies' masher. The show before The Show was, by all accounts, was an unqualified success.

As for Big Papi, aka Pecosa -- the most renowned slap hitter ever to come out of the lush Dominican Republic baseball fields -- there would be more derbies to conquer and fans to win over.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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